Some of my readers (the tens of you out there,) know that I have been pretty harsh on writing in film lately. I referenced the poor writing in my reviews for Star Trek Into Darkness, Now You See Me, and The Host, among a few others. Why am I hard on that part of film in particular? I find it to be the second most important part to any film, behind directing. Screenwriting builds the basis behind everything: the sets, the characters, the story, etc. While directorial choices truly make the film, it does not eliminate the need for a solid script.
I bring this up for three reasons. The first is because it extends my review a little bit, making it seem like I put more effort into it. The second reason is to explain why I respect the challenges a screenwriter faces in the development of a script, and why I look so closely at his or her work when writing my reviews. The third is so that I can say that Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s directorial debut, This is the End, is one of the best written comedies I have seen in the past five years, and for you to understand that is a big statement for me.
There are laughs left and right, with the cast doing a superb job at playing themselves. Goldberg (a writer of Goon) and Rogen (a writer of Superbad) perform fantastically at informing the cast how to be their characters. “But Greg, they’re playing themselves, how difficult of a job could that be?” Well inner-consciousness, it can be rather difficult. How far overboard should Michael Cera go in playing a coked out sex-addict? Would he not fear that people would think he is actually like that? Where is the fine line between ‘in good fun’ and ‘in poor taste’ when acting as an exaggerated version of yourself? Goldberg and Rogen find that line, and stay on it the entire time.
The central six characters, James Franco (Spring Breakers, Spider-Man), Jonah Hill (21 Jump Street, Moneyball), Seth Rogen (I have already mentioned his writing credits, but he was also in Undeclared and 50/50), Jay Baruchel (Goon, Cosmopolis, She’s Out of My League), Danny McBride (Eastbound and Down, Tropic Thunder), and Craig Robinson (Pineapple Express, Hot Tub Time Machine), are perfect at playing up the best parts of themselves (or the fictitious versions of themselves). Well, that is not entirely true… My least favorite part of the film was McBride doing his usual gag, which I am not a huge fan of. He still had some pretty great moments, notably an argument he and Franco had, when they were talking about jacking off on the walls around them.
Rogen and Goldberg make a few interesting stylistic choices, like when they are messing around during a party scene. It is after the apocalypse, and those mentioned above are the only six left. Their clothing changes color as they rock out to “Gangnam Style”. Brandon Trost, a relatively young cinematographer, is the director of photography on This Is The End. After the initial part of the apocalypse, the sky is forever faded gold, smoky, and strangely beautiful. It creates a tone of oddness pushing this film apart from others, on the surface.
The film follows Jay Baruchel coming from Canada to hang with his friend Seth Rogen, hoping for a quiet weekend. Rogen insists on taking him to Franco’s house for a party to Baruchel’s dismay. He hates the Hollywood lifestyle, shocking many at the party when he expresses this to them. Baruchel and Rogen’s friendship is what the film is really about, and how it has changed since Rogen became a big name. A film that is easily compared to this is 21 Jump Street, which was about two people that were not friends in high school becoming friends later in life as cops. While it worked, it was not nearly as good as this film, which is considerably more heartfelt. That may seem odd to say, but it is not. The speedy disintegration and later fixing of the two character’s friendship is pretty sweet to see, and felt sincere. I would not be surprised if something similar happened to the two actors in real life, inspiring this part of the film.
I read a review of this film comparing the actors to the likes of Bill Murray and his contemporaries back in the ‘80s, when they were making classics like Ghostbusters and Stripes. The critic said the group involved in This is the End are in that phase of pure comedic perfection, or something along those lines. While that may seem hyperbolic, I would not say that he is completely wrong. I recognize some issues with the film, like McBride, or some gross-out humor that I am not a fan of, but I would say that Rogen, Franco, Hill, Baruchel, and all the rest of them are on their way to that level of greatness. I would not be surprised if over the next ten years the group gets back together several times, and create films better and funnier than this one. In fact, I expect them to do that. I look forward to those days.